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Thread: Engin Cycles

  1. #1
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    Default Engin Cycles

    Not sure where to start, so I will begin slightly before I opened my bike shop. I spent my younger years learning my way around the kitchen and assuming I would spend the rest of my life cooking and eventually owning a restaurant. I went to college for culinary arts and added a second degree in business management. RIT had one of the few programs that allowed you to combine an applied science degree (culinary) with a business degree. In the end getting both degrees added a fifth year, but in hindsight it was worth it. Upon finishing school I wasted no time and got right to work (took my last exam on a Tuesday and was working full time that Friday). The job I landed was a salaried job which on paper sounded great for a "green" graduate. Although that green status was a bit odd since I was 22 and had been working in the kitchen since I was 15. Anyway that job burned me out faster than I would have ever expected and within six months I knew I needed a change.

    I was now 23 and hated the idea of earning a paycheck from another person. I grew up in an environment of self-employed people. My parents, grandparents, aunts and most everyone in my family were self-employed. I never heard "I hate my boss", "I cannot handle going to that job another day!". When I would talk to my dad I would say, "My boss is a jerk and takes me for granted". His reply, "Then quit!". Well, I did and gave the boss a two-month notice. The only other thing I enjoyed other than working in the kitchen was riding my bike. The two months would be spent opening my bike shop while still working to maintain some money. I lived like a monk and dumped everything I had into a bike shop in a neighborhood (Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia) that once was the home of the famous Hill Cycle. Hill Cycle went under about five years prior and nobody filled the void. I was young and ambitious but also "green" for real this time. I knew a lot about cooking but did not know all about bicycles. I took the money I was going to use to buy a Yeti ProFro (as well as my life savings) and said, "Well, all my new bike dreams are on hold until this gets off the ground".

    From the beginning I wanted to take a different approach to having a bike shop. This shop would be built around selling only things I liked and used. Not in business just to be in business. I had Gary Fisher and Schwinn to start, but I wanted to become a pro shop and to add some custom lines. I called Fat City but found out they were in complete turmoil and had to wait about one year before Independent would show up. I was one of the first Moots dealers on the East Coast and that was the beginning of my "custom" thing. We ended up being one of the first Independent dealers as well as a Vicious Cycles dealer. Got Parlee before they hit the mainstream as well as a lot of other products that were niche and not popular until many years after we said it was a solid product. We built a solid clientele in Philadelphia and found our niche in a few areas like mountain bikes and promoting cyclocross, but I stand firm on saying that everyone who works for me is a cyclist (not a roadie, not a mountain biker, not a hipster, but just someone who loves riding bikes).

    The building my bike shop is in has been in my family for about 70 years and my grandfather built the warehouse in the rear sometime in the 1950's. My grandparents had an Oriental rug business (it seems to be a popular thing for us Armenians). We now use the 7,000 sq ft. warehouse behind the bike shop for storage of the bikes to be repaired, new bikes in a box, overflow of assembled bikes and inventory. This space was where I always knew I would build bicycles. This plan needed many elements in place before I felt it would work. First I wanted to master the bicycle, fit, wheelbuilding, all things business-related and so on. I have built lots of wheels, I stopped counting after around 10,000 and felt that was enough (I used to build Peregrine 48's in the winter on contract).

    After 10 years in business I had the capital to either expand the bike shop retail into the warehouse or take the bike shop to the next level and become a real pro shop. I went with the latter option. I sold all my personal custom bikes and bought my first collection of machinery. I have never looked back on that decision and felt any remorse. Some say I now have a problem with buying machinery but I say I just am doing what I love. I love lots of things but my top five in order are my wife (and family), bicycles, making stuff, machinery and earning a solid living. Adding fabrication to my job has allowed me to see myself doing this in 30 years (I'm 38 now), whereas if someone told me I would be doing the retail thing in 30 years I might have had an empty feeling in my gut.

    I attribute my success in the bicycle business to my willingness to work insane hours as well as to an incredible family that raised me in a way that allowed me to dream big and never settle.

    Thanks for reading.
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

  2. #2
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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    Truly amazing journey Drew. It shows how one can never be sure where life will take them. For someone not sure of the whole bicycle business, you sure made the right choices. Looking back to the only shop days vs the situation you are in now must be very rewarding.
    Craig
     

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    You do great work, and skill wise you have some pretty impressive chops. Please tells us some about where your metalworking knowledge comes from, were there mentors or vo-tech classes or what? Also, I'm curious how much of your time is spent in the actual bike shop, and how you keep each side balanced and separated. Do you have times when someone knows there's a machine shop back there and they want to know if you can get this stuck bolt out "real quick '?
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
    Summoner of Crickets
    http://edozbicycles.wordpress.com/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edozbicycles/
    In Before the Lock

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    Quote Originally Posted by Craig Ryan View Post
    Truly amazing journey Drew. It shows how one can never be sure where life will take them. For someone not sure of the whole bicycle business, you sure made the right choices. Looking back to the only shop days vs the situation you are in now must be very rewarding.
    Craig
    Craig,
    Just on Saturday I got a call from my first Fisher rep. He is now a police officer and was really only being a "salesman" till the real gig happened for him. He went out on a limb for me and I will always appreciate his efforts. Anyway he was calling because he was cleaning up and found photos of the bike shop from the opening months. I had a couch in the "back" repair area for my late nights that ended in me just going to sleep at the shop. He said he will scan them and send them over.

    The first five years were really intense and I had some incredibly nervous moments (mostly which revolved around tax stuff) but I feel every moment played a role and allowed me to really enjoy getting up in the morning and heading to work.

    My job now has incredible rewards but so did having someone enter the bike shop having no idea what they wanted and then selling them their first bicycle since their real "first" bicycle. Attempting to create a cyclist is a very rewarding thing, it is just the other aspects of retail that can really take a toll. Thanks for the comment.

    -Drew
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    quickly drew (as we are on the way out to hike mt grace)...

    good on you, and for you, for seeing the value early on wrt being a part of the race community atmo.
    idol gives back, and so does drew.

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by edoz View Post
    You do great work, and skill wise you have some pretty impressive chops. Please tells us some about where your metalworking knowledge comes from, were there mentors or vo-tech classes or what? Also, I'm curious how much of your time is spent in the actual bike shop, and how you keep each side balanced and separated. Do you have times when someone knows there's a machine shop back there and they want to know if you can get this stuck bolt out "real quick '?
    Eric,
    Complex question so let's break it down:
    I went to UBI to get the basics of "how a frame is made"* and got exactly what I wanted out of the course. I actually build a bicycle in no way like I was taught there, however I am still a huge advocate of the place and feel it has merit. People going in without the proper background or motivation will leave without the proper knowledge but that is another thread in itself.

    Metalworking has many aspects and I have picked up my metalworking skills in a variety of ways. I was shown the basics of TIG at UBI, I am self taught for brazing and my MIG/Stick skills were shown to me from a good friend that is a blacksmith. His is a dying trade but he is an amazing person who does great work and we help each other whenever we can.

    Finish work is something that toil at the bench is really the only way to get good at it. An undercut anything is usually the result of someone that does not know what they are looking for. I don't care if someone is a samurai with the dynafile I just don't think it has a place when finishing fillets. It is however god when finishing drop outs.

    Machine work is where I have a serious passion and take it very seriously. Many know I am good friends with Jamie Swan. He is a dear friend and we speak almost daily. He has taken me under his wing and become my mentor for proper technique and use of machine tools. It is his day job to teach people how to properly work in a machine shop and yet he still takes the time to work with me. It is an endless journey but I take pride in my machinist skills and hope to some day consider myself an actual machinist.

    I work 6 days a week and about 65-70 hours in total. About 20 hours a week are spent in the bike shop. I work every Saturday and usually one of the days in the week non-stop in the shop, the rest of the time I am back and forth. This is the first year I have further removed myself from the daily ordering of the shop. I still know everything that happens and rarely let myself feel like I don't know what is happening.

    I keep the machine shop and even Engin Cycles well separate from Wissahickon Cyclery. The bike shop is both a neighborhood bike shop and a destination spot. The people coming to the shop for one thing don't really know or care about the other aspect. I am fine with that. Every now and then someone will ask for something to be done not knowing there is 25,000 lbs of iron in the back that could get it done. I usually explain to them what they just asked for is not something the average bike shop can do but I can. If they seem appreciative, I will do it. If they get defensive about the costs and/or time involved, I will pass on the job. Seeing how I am backed up with work it seems unfair to the other paying people that I am fixing someone's broken garden equipment.

    Thanks for the comments and sorry for the long winded answer but as I said that was a tough question.

    -Drew

    * Richard has his page "how frames are made"
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by e-RICHIE View Post
    quickly drew (as we are on the way out to hike mt grace)...

    good on you, and for you, for seeing the value early on wrt being a part of the race community atmo.
    idol gives back, and so does drew.
    Richard,

    This is the first year Wissahickon Cross will not happen in over 10 years. The new baby on the way will make me quickly remember why it seemed like something that just had to happen. Kelly Cline did a great job with the race and we felt it was one of the best weekends in the MidAtlantic cross calendar. I am however going to have one heck of a party this year for the Philadelphia Bike Expo. Live band, beverages and good food. I will give back that way this year!

    -Drew
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Doggonit Drew, that does it. I didn't even get through your op. I've got to cut and run to the store to get some meat for the smoker. It's a good day for that and I've been promising me all week. Be back in 10 hours.






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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    Quote Originally Posted by EnginCycles View Post
    Thanks for the comments and sorry for the long winded answer but as I said that was a tough question.
    No, it's good. I could read/hear about that sort of thing all day.
    Eric Doswell, aka Edoz
    Summoner of Crickets
    http://edozbicycles.wordpress.com/
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/edozbicycles/
    In Before the Lock

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    yo drew -
    where does it all go?
    one man, one frame?
    batch builds?
    branding?
    outsourcing?
    etc.
    with the retail shop seemingly a separate entity, what dreams do you have for engin cycles?

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by e-RICHIE View Post
    yo drew -
    where does it all go?
    one man, one frame?
    batch builds?
    branding?
    outsourcing?
    etc.
    with the retail shop seemingly a separate entity, what dreams do you have for engin cycles?
    Each bike I build is for one particular end user. I am not however for hire as a fabricator. I have a set way of doing things and won't change that. When I get an inquiry from someone that has this idea or that idea and I completely disagree I tell them politely that I am not their builder. Just last week we had someone in asking about a 29R with canti studs. I told him I won't build a 29R without disc brakes. He looked at me like I was crazy. I said "I am not sure why you want this but I am also not looking to convince you that I am right". I could tell he was upset with me but I stand firm that cantis have no place on a current MTB. There are plenty of people willing to make that bike so everyone is better off in the end.

    I never build anything in batch but I will try to build things in a row. I pile up the cross bikes each year and do them in a row. That way things like the unicrown fixture for fork blades, rear axle spacing stuff and what not isn't changed and you can get in a good groove when building them. It might save 5 minutes per bike but I like doing it that way.

    I do everything except for some of the assemblies (and obviously the paint which is done By Todd Eroh). It got really hard to keep up with the wheels and final assemblies so Ed, the shop manager, helps with that. He has been with me for about 8 years and is an excellent mechanic. It has helped keep a good flow in the shop. He also is the liaison for people making basic decisions on bike components. Some people require more time in the this part versus that part department and Ed is great for that. Sharing those few duties is very helpful.

    I would say with about 99% certainty that when a product gets outsourced that will be the end of my involvement with the brand (I have zero plans for this happening).

    Branding? One of the reasons I went with a separate name was so I could have a way to expand the business beyond myself if I desired. This decision went instantly on the back burner though when I realized I needed to do everything myself in order to maintain my sanity. I am a control freak and finally have a way to let it loose. Running a business is not realistic when you are a control freak and micro managing. It is something I had a hard time letting go of with the bike shop but I learned to delegate jobs. One of the hardest things about being an employer is actually being an employer, I try really hard to walk that fine line of being easygoing but not a pushover. I ask for one thing and that is you work, if that is always being done I think I am easy to work for. Having this task in the bike shop is enough I don't want it with the bicycles as well.

    Thanks for the questions but I might have drifted a bit with the answers?

    -Drew
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by EnginCycles View Post
    He looked at me like I was crazy.
    that's a gift bro'.
    do what you are atmo.

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    Drew,

    You are one one of the few builders I see out there who is completely proficient at TIG, lugged, and fillet; and frequently vacillates between all of them. Do you have a preference? Which was the hardest for you to learn and feel comfortable with?

    I appreciate the steady Flickr updates you provide; they're always great to see. Thank you.

    Tony
    Anthony Maietta
    Web Site | Blog | Flickr
    "The person who says it can not be done, should not interrupt the person doing it."

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    Drew - I love stopping in your shop whenever I'm in Philly, and have taken way more of my share of Ed's time with questions on everything from cyclocross to wheelbuilding. One of these days I'll order a 'cross bike while I'm there. They really look great.
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by anthonymaietta View Post
    Drew,

    You are one one of the few builders I see out there who is completely proficient at TIG, lugged, and fillet; and frequently vacillates between all of them. Do you have a preference? Which was the hardest for you to learn and feel comfortable with?

    I appreciate the steady Flickr updates you provide; they're always great to see. Thank you.

    Tony
    Tony,
    They all have their place and I enjoy certain parts of everything. When I do lugged bikes they are always with made from scratch lugs so those bikes are a time bandit. I only make 4 or 5 of the 953 bikes each year and when I am done with each one I am always happy to start another that won't be so time consuming. The seat posts are straightforward I.C. lugs and are just part of my regular duties. I usually have a stem and post with every bike so each week I am at a minimum fillet brazing a stem and brazing a seat post. The funny part is my favorite part of a frame to braze is the BB and my least favorite part to finish is the BB, funny how that works.

    No matter what type of joinery people choose for the frame, I like it all. I enjoy TIG welding and love how it is clean. I think it is funny how people that only braze bikes say TIG is easier. It is without a doubt the hardest form of joinery to get good at. I play the drums and think the ability to coordinate my hands with what my brain is thinking and my eyes are seeing is probably why I am good at it.

    The flickr stream seems to have a life of its own. It is for each client each week but based on the numbers it is obviously being watched by others. I enjoy adding to it and documenting each build.

    Thanks for the comments and if I missed anything feel free to ask more.

    -Drew
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Yo Drew, so glad to see that your path in life has given you such pleasure. I've enjoyed watching you develope as a fabricator and have a question in that vein...

    When given open parameters to create, what design elements do you like to incorporate into a bike; unique fabrication that you enjoy or feel build a better product, visual aspects that draw the eye and add to the whole, material choices that define how you believe the end ride should feel? In short, what do you like to put into your builds that define it as an Engin?

    cheers,

    rody
     

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    Quote Originally Posted by oldmill View Post
    Drew - I love stopping in your shop whenever I'm in Philly, and have taken way more of my share of Ed's time with questions on everything from cyclocross to wheelbuilding. One of these days I'll order a 'cross bike while I'm there. They really look great.
    One of the perks I feel about my situation is how it is a brick and mortar that has hours 6 days a week. People can stop in for a visit and get a lot out of it. I prefer a heads up but still people are stopping in all the time and the employees make an effort to only interrupt me if it seems important. I have had people setup visits from far away but this October is the winner with an appointment set up from a New Zealander.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    -Drew
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rody View Post
    Yo Drew, so glad to see that your path in life has given you such pleasure. I've enjoyed watching you develope as a fabricator and have a question in that vein...

    When given open parameters to create, what design elements do you like to incorporate into a bike; unique fabrication that you enjoy or feel build a better product, visual aspects that draw the eye and add to the whole, material choices that define how you believe the end ride should feel? In short, what do you like to put into your builds that define it as an Engin?

    cheers,

    rody
    Rody,
    Great question. I come from a different background than many that have decided to enter this trade. My years in the business began in the time of TIG welding and the MTB boom so the lugged road bike is a bit before my time. I grew up in a "production" environment and thought that was just the way bikes were. Even the "custom" bikes I sought out for the shop were not tailor made for the end user (this has changed a bit over the past 5 or so years). Before I paid lots of people good money just to get a simple thing like a 15mm head tube extension or a shorter top tube. Mind you these bikes fell under the category as custom yet it was only a small change from their norm.

    When I started making bikes I wanted to combine the quality control of what the machines had to offer and a very systematic approach to building, but add a bit of flair that did not remove any strength or add significant time along the way. Examples are a headtube with the rings machined in but also a subtle groove for a painted pin stripe, curved bridges and braces, s bend stays that are always made per the bike to maximize the tire clearance for each size bike if wanted or needed.

    Mostly however what people are paying for IMO is my ability to fit someone on a bike and make sure it is exactly what they want. I have a gift that allows me to look at someone and envision them riding a bike and then I can imagine that bike and how I need to build it. I have all the bells and whistles that measure people and what not but most of the time I do it for the customer and not myself. You can have 10 people with the same numbers and all 10 bikes need to be different based on their posture and riding style. I really enjoy getting testimonials from people that have a smile from ear to ear after riding their bike.

    Visually, the drop out transition is the one spot that I really focus on. Most semi-custom and production bikes lack the extra detail involved with a well finished drop out. Also I have an obsession with the continued look of a bicycle. I am a bicycle builder not a framebuilder. I look at the end product not the frame. A frame is a useless product on its own and merely a part of the end product. This is why I started making the seat post and stems. I like having full control of the end look and feel it separates my bikes from others.

    Thanks for the comments and for those that care Rody is a good friend and someone that adds greatly to the trade.

    -Drew
    Drew Guldalian
    Engin Cycles
    www.engincycles.com

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    Hey Drew,

    Your shop is a real inspiration for me and my crew in terms of what a complete bike shop should be.

    As a fellow retail/repair and fabrication shop, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on the benefits and hurdles of doing both. Do you find that people will come in looking for a Dragon Pro and leave with a Engin deposit receipt?

    Do you think you'll ever pass on what you've learned from Jamie to another builder?

    See ya in October!
    Baltimore Bicycle Works

    FLICKR

    Natty Boh and Lonestar Enthusiast

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    Default Re: Engin Cycles

    As someone lucky enough to own one of Drew's MTB's, one that I feel scores insanely high on fabrication, aesthetic, fit, function, and ride. One that covers the major build methods; handmade lugs, fillet braze, tig...all in one bike, seamlessly.

    I would like to ask, what is next?

    This is a fairly open question. I could mean what's next for you fabrication wise. Fine tuning, changes, something new? It could mean where you see the industry going....and how you fit into that? Etc. However you wish to answer it.

    Or what bike will I want next?
     

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